It’s safe to say Kansas senior Svi Mykhailiuk’s offense began to fall into a bit of a funk the past couple of games, with consecutive sub-30-percent shooting outings in the Jayhawks’ two defeats.
After a string of seven consecutive double-figure scoring performances to start his final year in a KU uniform, Mykhailiuk’s struggles began in KU’s loss to Washington, when he shot 3-for-12 from the field, made just two of eight 3-point tries and scored 8 points. Plus, the typically sure-handed guard, who entered the game averaging only 1.1 turnovers, gave the ball up three times.
Mykhailiuk couldn’t shake his turnover woes in the Jayhawks’ loss to Arizona State, either. All four of his miscues came in the second half of the setback — leading to 5 of ASU’s 25 points off turnovers.
And although the 6-foot-8 senior from Ukraine made three of his final five field-goal attempts in the final six-plus minutes versus the Sun Devils to finish with 14 points, the nine shots that left his hand prior to that run all misfired. In the loss, Mykhailiuk missed 11 of his 14 shot attempts overall and saw 3-pointers rim out or bounce off the rim eight different times (3-for-11).
It’s important to note, though, that the mini-slump doesn’t have Mykhailiuk’s coach, Bill Self, worried about the senior’s game moving forward.
“He hasn’t played well. He didn’t have a good game against Arizona State, but for the most part this year he’s been good,” Self said of KU’s third-leading scorer, who is averaging 15.8 points per game, 3.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.7 turnovers, while shooting 30-for-65 on 3-pointers (40%), 44.3% from floor, and 10-for-14 on free throws (71.4%).
“And nobody tries harder than Svi, so he’ll be fine,” Self said. “He’ll be fine.”
Mykhailiuk’s consistent effort even showed up in the home loss to ASU. To the senior’s credit, during a volatile afternoon on the court, he at least facilitated the offense in the first 20 minutes, even though his shot wouldn’t fall. While going 0-for-5 in the opening half, Mykhailiuk also dished six assists — setting up a Malik Newman 3-pointer, a Lagerald Vick layup, a pair of Vick 3-pointers and back-to-back Vick dunks.
In KU’s consecutive losses to Pac-12 foes, Mykhailiuk’s averages read: 36 minutes, 11 points, 2.5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3.5 turnovers. He shot 6-for-26 from the field (23%), 5-for-19 on 3-pointers (26%) and 5-for-6 on free throws (83%, with no attempts vs. Washington).
While such a stretch might have unnerved him in past seasons, Mykhailiuk hasn’t appeared rattled of late. If anything, he shows some frustration after a costly turnover, then goes back to taking the same offensive approach that has made him more effective this season.
And even though he is still only 20 years old, the senior now is mature and confident enough to keep attacking and shooting when shots aren’t falling.
Following the loss to Washington, Mykhailiuk was asked whether there was more pressure to knock down open looks when the Huskies’ defense had set up so well to take the 3-point weapon away from Kansas.
“It’s the same mentality. When you’re open you’ve got to shoot it no matter what,” Mykhailiuk responded.
If his offensive arsenal is lacking anything at this point, with No. 13 Kansas inching closer to Big 12 play, it’s determined drives to the paint. Self said the previous season Frank Mason III used to go off the dribble, get into the lane and either force help or draw fouls.
“Svi can do a better job of that,” Self said, after identifying Devonte’ Graham and Vick as the only effective drivers for KU thus far.
Entering Saturday’s game at Nebraska (7-4), Mykhailiuk has attempted only 14 free throws and owns the lowest free-throw rate on the entire roster — a sign that he should seek out more opportunities to create offense off the bounce.
An even more dynamic Mykhailiuk who takes advantage of closing-out opponents with drives from the perimeter to draw defenders and fouls, would make his 3-point shot that much more difficult to defend.
Opportunities for the senior to put his recent funk behind him will present themselves at Nebraska, and every game going forward doubles as another chance for Mykhailiuk to further develop his overall game. The more versatility he shows as not just a shooter, but also a driver and passer, the more high-powered KU’s offense will become.
In a rare Allen Fieldhouse loss Sunday to surging Arizona State, no potential defect for the now 13th-ranked Kansas basketball team leapt off the court quite like the Jayhawks’ perimeter defense.
KU’s defenders uncovered no real solutions for hindering either the paint-bound drives or 3-point bombs of Sun Devils guards Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Remy Martin.
The trio accounted for 72 of ASU’s 95 points in a road victory that propelled the Pac-12 program to a No. 5 national ranking. Holder (29 points), a 6-foot-1 senior, shot 4-for-7 from long range and scored eight points in the paint. Evans, also a 6-1 senior, went 5-for-9 on 3-pointers and scored four points off layups. Martin, a 6-1 freshman, drained both of his attempts from beyond the arc and added 10 points at the rim.
Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham shined some light on the defensive conundrum he and his teammates faced while trying to stop Arizona State’s dynamic guards.
“They were really tough, because they were so quick and they could shoot the ball really well. It was hard to guard both,” Graham began. “You know, you wanted the short close-out because you were worried about the drive. And then they could shoot it. They did a great job knocking down shots.”
Especially in cases when Holder or Evans spotted up on the perimeter and waited for a kick-out, Kansas defenders found it hard to decide whether to fly at a shooter or close their ground under control to better limit an attack off the dribble.
At other points, ASU coach Bobby Hurley asked Holder to attack off ball screens, and those situations harmed the Jayhawks, as well, even if it wasn’t one of the guards finishing the play. Five of 6-8 freshman forward Romello White’s six buckets came at the rim. Improperly defending a White screen-and-roll with Holder meant an assist for the senior ball-handler and a layup for the young big man.
After Kansas dropped its second game in a row, 15th-year head coach Bill Self — without naming any specific culprit — deplored the way Graham, Lagerald Vick, Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk guarded their ASU counterparts.
“(ASU) ran some actions to create switches and, you know, our ball-screen defense wasn’t any good today,” Self began. “But basically they were better with the ball, which they’ve been with everybody. They put it on Xavier pretty good, too. They’re good. And they were better with the ball than we were obviously, physically being able to stay in front of them.”
The defensive malfunctions throughout the second half allowed Arizona State (9-0) to put up 58 points in the final 20 minutes, on 58% shooting, as the visitors converted 11 layups or dunks and shot 7-for-14 from 3-point range.
The display is likely to become a favorite of the most talented guards remaining on KU’s schedule, who will watch the video evidence of how to attack the Jayhawks picturing themselves doing the same. The more quick-off-the-bounce drivers and shooters a team has on its roster, the better its coaches and players will feel about matching up with Kansas.
Even when KU’s offense finally rallied late in the second half, its defense couldn’t stop Evans during a critical stretch, when he nailed three 3-pointers in less than four minutes.
The Jayhawks either gave him too much space or flew right past him, allowing Evans to flourish and further embolden his teammates for crunch time.
Really, the only portion of the game in which Kansas played effective defensively came in the opening minutes, when the Jayhawks built a 13-point lead they couldn’t sustain.
“I thought the first half, early in the half we did a pretty good job,” Self said. “They’re going to score points. I don’t see how you keep them from scoring points, especially if they shoot the ball like that.”
Of course, that defensive success proved short-lived. Once KU’s breakdowns on the perimeter allowed ASU back in the game, its talented guards kept exposing their opponent’s weaknesses, paving the way for a 51% shooting performance from the field and 14-for-28 accuracy from 3-point range.
At times, it was simple as Holder, Evans or Martin blowing by the Jayhawk in front of him for a layup.
“They played take-em a lot in the second half,” Self said, “and we had a hard time keeping them in front of us.”
By the end of a stressful afternoon for KU’s perimeter defenders, the Sun Devils had foisted the Jayhawks into so many missteps it seemed like every shot ASU put up was bound to drop through the net.
Even a Steph Curry-range dagger.
Avenues toward an improved KU defense obviously still exist, even as the team tries to maximize minutes from its starting five while incorporating just two rotation players, Mitch Lightfoot and Marcus Garrett, off the bench.
As a jumping off point, Self said his players need to learn how to defend in a fashion that makes their opponents uneasy on offense.
“A lot of it is toughness. When things aren’t going well you kind of grind through it a little bit, and we just don’t have that right now,” Self said. “That’s what we’ve got to get as much as anything else. We’ve got to get to the point where we can make others play bad. See, they could make us play bad because they could tell Remy Martin to go guard the ball and he’d get a deflection or a steal (five takeaways at KU) or what not. We don’t have people that can do that. So we’ve got to figure out a way to collectively not let people be comfortable as a team. That’s not working right now.”
KU’s senior leader and best player, Graham understands the Jayhawks must enhance their defense. They might have held Tennessee State, South Dakota State, Texas Southern, Oakland and Syracuse below 37% shooting, but Washington converted 48% of its shots in an upset at Sprint Center, and Arizona State, the best team Kansas has faced so far, out-scored KU 93-70 in the final 36-plus minutes at the feildhouse.
“We’ve got to work on it a lot,” Graham said of KU’s defense. “We’re just not guarding the ball really well right now. We’ve got to get better, especially on that end of the court. We’ve got a whole week until our next game and we’re going to get better.”
The University of Kansas football program generated an explosion of unexpected buzz this past February by adding intriguing prospects to its 2018 recruiting class.
But 10 months later, with the NCAA’s new early-signing period for college football beginning Dec. 20, the vibe surrounding KU’s potential signees could shift drastically in the opposite direction.
Over the weekend, the biggest name tied to the Jayhawks, four-star New Orleans receiver Devonta Jason, decommitted from David Beaty’s program. Meanwhile, the only quarterback in KU’s class, Texas prep Clayton Tune, visited Ole Miss and currently describes Kansas as “still in the picture” for the quickly approaching signing day.
KU fans now have to hope Beaty and his staff can hold on to the high school commitments they have, with the biggest concerns being four-star cornerback Corione Harris — Jason’s prep teammate at Landry-Walker (La.) — and the group’s other remaining “Louisianimal,” running back Anthony “Pooka” Williams.
Harris announced recently he will chose between KU and Mississippi State. Williams, though, appears to have a number of programs to consider.
Sam Spiegelman, a recruiting reporter for SEC Country, spoke with Williams after his Hahnville High team lost in Louisiana’s Class 5A state title game on Saturday. The 5-foot-10, three-star running back explained how his recruitment has picked up during his remarkable senior season, capped by rushing for 1,403 yards and 14 touchdowns in five playoff games.
The speedy all-purpose back told SEC Country he not only has an offer from LSU but also Miami. Plus, Williams related, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama and Auburn have shown interest in him, as well.
“A lot of schools have come here,” Williams told SEC Country. “When you do big things, big schools come in. Nebraska, Auburn, LSU, Alabama, Miami. … I can keep naming schools.”
Williams had stated previously he planned to sign with Kansas on Dec. 20, but Spiegelman reported the Louisiana standout is considering delaying signing until February.
If the increasingly popular running back had to make a choice now, he told SEC Country he would pick the Jayhawks, to whom he committed in February after hitting it off with running backs coach Tony Hull, a Louisiana native.
“It’s still Kansas, because I’m committed to them and I gave them my word,” Williams said. “It would be hard for me to flip my word on them. It’s about loyalty and it’s like a family, so if I go somewhere, I have to feel comfortable and it’s where I can play. We’ll see who can build a family [relationship] with me and we’ll take it from there.”
A former LSU quarterback with both a high school state title and an NJCAA national championship on his résumé is examining the University of Kansas as his next potential stop.
Earlier this week, Lindsey Scott Jr., helped East Mississippi Community College — the program made famous the previous couple of years by the Netflix documentary “Last Chance U” — finish the season No. 1 in the nation. Scott completed 15 of 28 passes for 170 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception, as well as 40 rushing yards, in a 31-28 victory over Arizona Western at the Mississippi Bowl, the NJCAA’s Football Championship Game.
According to Jon Kirby of Jayhawk Slant, KU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham watched Scott in person on Sunday, in Perkinston, Miss., and the Jayhawks offered the QB a scholarship on Monday.
In high school, Scott led Zachary (La.) to a Class 5A state championship in 2015, and was considered by Rivals to be a three-star, dual-threat QB in the recruiting Class of 2016.
Scott signed with LSU after picking up offers from a number of programs, including Power Five schools Maryland, Rutgers, Wake Forest and Syracuse, as well as Air Force, Army, Navy, Tulane and Harvard.
A 5-foot-11, 210-pound passing and running threat, Scott transferred out of LSU this past August after spending one season in the program as a redshirt QB. According to The Advocate, he was in a battle to become LSU’s No. 2 quarterback during preseason camp.
However, Scott decided to transfer to the junior college level and play immediately. At Eastern Mississippi, within a spread offensive attack, he completed 65 percent of his 398 passes, while throwing for 3,481 yards, with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also averaged 60.8 rushing yards a game and ran for six scores.
Now that his one fall of juco football is over, Scott has three years of eligibility remaining. The QB said during a Wednesday interview with Matt Moscona, on 104.5 FM ESPN Baton Rouge, he will visit Kansas this weekend, and follow the trip up by checking out Western Michigan.
Scott identified KU, WMU, Tulane and Texas-San Antonio as the four teams he is considering right now. In another interview, with the Biloxi Sun Herald, he said Tulane has recruited him hard since he left LSU.
Asked during his radio Q & A whether he will reach a decision this month and make it official during the new NCAA early signing period, Scott admitted he wasn’t certain. He could potentially wait until February.
“With juco recruiting things can change quickly,” Scott told ESPN Baton Rouge. “So I guess the extra time would just be beneficial to me.”
As Scott weighs his choices, he will have different styles of offenses to consider. Although Tulane runs a zone-option, he told the Sun Herald he could see himself fitting in there. But that seems to be his mentality for any system, as Scott declined to pigeonhole himself.
“I can see myself in different types of offenses,” he told ESPN Baton Rouge. “I think I’m very malleable.”
Ultimately, Scott might decide he fits best at KU if his experience during his visit to Lawrence convinces him he would be contented as a part of the rebuilding program.
“I just want somewhere that feels like home with a coaching staff that has the best interest for me,” Scott said, “and where the offense suits my skill set.”
Devonte’ Graham’s shooting display in Miami this past weekend was so impactful it wowed Heat president Pat Riley, who, according to Kansas coach Bill Self, said the senior guard “put on a show” in a victory over Syracuse.
That 35-point deluge alone — even coupled with Graham’s 35-point outburst versus Toledo that preceded it — won’t guarantee the 6-foot-2 Jayhawks veteran a spot in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft.
In a new mock draft from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony (formerly of DraftExpress.com) released on Tuesday, neither Graham’s name nor the those of any of his teammates appear in the first round.
As of early December at least, with 24 regular-season games and an entire postseason in front of him, Graham is considered an early second-rounder. Givony projects KU’s current leading scorer (18.6 points per game, 46% field goals, 41% 3-pointers) as the 38th pick overall, a slot occupied for the moment by the Memphis Grizzlies.
The charismatic senior also has shown improvements in other areas of his game, with career-best averages of 4.6 rebounds and 8.0 assists at this early juncture of the non-conference schedule.
ESPN’s predictions consider another KU senior, 20-year-old shooting guard Svi Mykhailiuk, a second-round talent, as well.
Givony’s mock draft forecasts Mykhailiuk being taken eight picks after Graham, 46th overall, by Utah.
After testing out the draft process this past spring without signing on with an agent, Mykhailiuk’s final go-around with the Jayhawks is off to a promising start, with improved defense and a better-than-ever 3-point stroke.
The 6-foot-8 guard from Ukraine enters Wednesday’s non-conference matchup with Washington in Kansas City, Mo., averaging 17.1 points, fueled by 25-for-46 accuracy (54.3%) from beyond the 3-point arc.
Mykhailiuk, while not as well-rounded as Graham, also has picked up his rebounding (4.0 a game) and passing (1.9 assists) with increased playing time as a senior.
The Kansas seniors are the only Jayhawks on ESPN’s mock draft in the first week of December. However, Givony’s list of top 100 prospects for the 2018 NBA Draft also includes junior Lagerald Vick, listed at No. 61, and sophomore Malik Newman, 92nd.
A great deal can change between now and the NCAA Tournament, let alone in the pre-draft workouts and interviews that follow the season. Graham and Mykhailiuk won’t soar into lottery status, but both appear to be on trajectories that could get them closer to — or maybe even into — the first round in the months ahead.
We all now recognize how flammable the shooting hand of Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham can get, in wake of his back-to-back 35-point performances this past week, spearheading victories over Toledo and Syracuse.
It’s safe to say any one of the Jayhawks’ starters, Graham confirmed, could put up 20 points and no one would experience an iota of astonishment. But which of his teammates is most capable of exploding for 30 or more points like the senior point guard has?
“There’s no telling,” Graham replied, when asked for his opinion. “It could be Lagerald, could be Svi, could be Malik. Udoka could go crazy one night. … Anybody could have a hot night any given night. If everybody’s being aggressive, somebody’s gonna probably get hot.”
Spoken tactfully, like a true veteran leader. Maybe junior wing Lagerald Vick could slash and shoot his way to 30. Or senior Svi Mykhailiuk might bombard an opponent with 3-pointers en route to a huge night. Perhaps sophomore guard Malik Newman gets hot, while also scoring in bunches in transition for a career performance. It’s conceivable 7-foot sophomore center Udoka Azubuike could be so overpowering against a front line that he dunks, lay-ups and jump-hooks his way to a massive scoring total.
Who knows? Well, actually, KU head coach Bill Self has a pretty good idea.
Asked which of Graham’s running mates is most likely to go off in the fashion his senior point guard did, Self didn’t have to ponder the inquiry at all.
“Svi,” Self replied, even before the question was completed. “Svi. I think Svi’s shown that.”
As KU’s coach referenced, Mykhailiuk nearly reached 30 a few weeks ago, on a night he shot 5-for-7 on 3-pointers and put up 27 against South Dakota State. But that doesn’t mean Self determined the 6-foot-8 guard from Ukraine is the only plausible candidate for the high-scoring, No. 2-ranked Jayhawks (91.9 points per game, sixth-best in the country).
“I think Lagerald can, too,” Self added of the 6-5 guard from Memphis, who produced 20 points against Syracuse while only hitting one 3-pointer.
“And Dok, I’m a little disappointed in Dok in the last game,” Self said of the mammoth post man from Nigeria, who is shooting 77% from the floor and already has finished 26 slams on the season, “because he never put himself in position to score — he never ducked in one time, he never posted up. It’s like the zone messed with his head. And he’s got to be able to play through that.”
Although Azubuike is averaging 14.6 points as a sophomore, Self expressed his dismay about the center’s season-low 6 points versus Syracuse’s 2-3 zone most likely because Kansas is about to face that type of defense again Wednesday night vs. Washington, in Kansas City, Mo.
The Jayhawks (7-0) also could use a bounce-back performance from Newman. The former Mississippi State guard registered his first single-digit scoring game at KU in Miami, going 1-for-8 with just 2 points.
“And Malik’s obviously a guy that can get 20 any night if he’s playing well,” Self added. “And, of course, that wasn’t one of his better games obviously.”
The key takeaway from the who-else-can-get-hot discussion, though, was what an enviable position this team is in from an offensive standpoint.
“The good thing about having five guys that are capable of doing that is you don’t have to have all five guys the same night,” Self said. “You can just have two or three have big nights.”
The 15th-year Kansas coach pointed out Graham, Vick and Mykhailiuk (11 points) combined to contribute 66 of KU’s 76 points in the win over the ACC’s Orange.
“And to be honest with you the other — I could be off on this — the other 10 points we scored, four of them were uncontested lob plays. Not baskets you have to earn,” Self said. “And Malik got an offensive rebound and a put-back on a layup. That’s it. To think we could beat Syracuse when we only have three guys contribute offensively statistically, I think that hopefully is a good sign.”
It seems most fans would agree with Self’s judgment that Mykhailiuk is the most likely Jayhawk to catch fire offensively. Fifty percent of those who voted on Twitter selected the senior marksman as most likely to join Graham as a 30-point scorer at some point this season.
Mykhailiuk definitely qualifies as the most probable to go off. But don’t rule out Newman. The 6-3 guard from Jackson, Miss., hasn’t even reached 20 points yet at Kansas, but he has the confidence and shooter’s mentality to erupt when he inevitably has a game where he’s feeling it.
Newman isn’t a gunner as a rule, but if there’s a matchup that favors him and his teammates aren’t at their offensive peak, he wouldn’t have any trouble becoming the go-to scorer when needed.
Here’s a further look at each of the candidates.
Season stats: 14.6 PPG, 77% FGs, 40% FTs
Career highs: 21 points, vs. Oakland (Nov. 21); 10 FGs, vs. Oakland; 4 FTs, vs. UMKC (Dec. 6, 2016)
Season stats: 17.1 PPG, 51% FGs, 54% 3s, 63% FTs
Career highs: 27 points, vs. South Dakota State (Nov. 17); 10 FGs, vs. South Dakota State; 6 3-pointers, vs. Chaminade (Nov. 23, 2015); 5 FTs, vs. Baylor (Jan. 2, 2016)
Season stats: 11.9 PPG, 46% FGs, 40% 3s, 100% FTs
Career highs: 25 points, vs. Ole Miss (while at Mississippi State, Jan. 23, 2016); 8 FGs, vs. Ole Miss; 7 3-pointers, vs. Ole Miss; 6 FTs, vs. Tulane (Dec. 18, 2015)
Season stats: 16.4 PPG, 54% FGs, 47% 3s, 71% FTs
Career highs: 23 points, vs. Tennessee State (Nov. 10); 9 FGs, vs. South Dakota State (Nov. 17) and Long Beach State (Nov. 29, 2016); 4 3-pointers, vs. Tennessee State and Long Beach State; 4 FTs, vs. West Virginia (Feb. 13, 2017) and TCU (Dec. 30, 2016)
Back before he became the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, defensive end Julius Peppers spent his football offseasons in Chapel Hill, N.C., helping the University of North Carolina’s vaunted basketball program win ACC and postseason games.
So when the Kansas basketball team this season ran into such depth issues that head coach Bill Self only played six Jayhawks 20 or more minutes in each of the first three games it stood to reason some multi-skilled athlete from the KU football team with a basketball past might become useful inside Allen Fieldhouse.
I was convinced Kansas junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. was the perfect man for the job. The 6-foot-4, 246-pound Armstrong might not be quite as imposing at the 6-7, 290-pound Peppers was, but it’s the same idea: put a freakishly athletic, muscle-bound pass-rusher on the court, let him intimidate opponents and/or wreak havoc on the rim. In other words: Grab your popcorn, sit back and enjoy.
That was basically my pitch to Armstrong recently during one of his weekly interview sessions. So had the former big man at Houston’s North Shore High, where he played on a 5A state championship team in 2014, ever entertained the idea of going back to his hoops roots at Kansas?
“Nuh-uh,” Armstrong replied, while shaking his head and grinning. “No.”
Armstrong has to be one of the most hulking individual’s on KU’s campus. And you have to admit, it seems like the basketball roster could use another big body.
“I don’t know. I don’t really get into it. My focus is all here. I feel like they’ve got everything taken care of over there,” Armstrong assessed. “So I’ll keep my focus over here and try and get this thing flipped.”
But what about Peppers? That’s proof it could work, right? The defensive end/power forward averaged 7.1 points and and 4.0 rebounds in his second (and final) basketball season at UNC (2000-01).
“No, my basketball days are over with,” Armstrong said with a laugh. “I haven’t been on the court in a minute. Can’t even run up and down that thing no more.”
Armstrong actually scored in double figures several times during his final prep season at North Shore. But as it turns out, an even more skilled basketball player existed on the KU football roster: backup sophomore tight end James Sosinski.
Longtime Self assistant Norm Roberts told his boss about Sosinski, who played previously at South Mountain Community College, in Phoenix, Ariz., after Roberts ran into the tight end’s father at a KU football game. Then Self called KU football coach David Beaty to inquire further.
“Of course David’s great, and he was totally open to him coming out,” Self added.
Armstrong never was going to be the KU basketball equivalent of Peppers at UNC, and Sosinski won’t be either. Self is giving the 6-7 former club teammate of Mitch Lightfoot a look at practices to see how the tight end might fit in and be of use in KU’s shallow front court. If it ever reaches a point where Sosinski is checking into a game for Self’s Jayhawks, the coach predicts it wouldn’t be more than “maybe a minute or two here or there,” no different than when he goes to walk-ons Clay Young and Chris Teahan.
Self revealed this won’t be the first time he borrowed some talent from a football program.
“We did it at Illinois,” Self said. “Illinois had a wide receiver who actually played in the NFL, a kid named Walter Young, and he was a good high school player. For whatever reason we were short on depth — in practice, not in games.”
Young played sparingly for Self’s Illini in the 2001-02 season, averaging 1.0 points and 2.5 minutes per game before becoming a seventh-round NFL Draft pick in 2003.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with that he played football,” Self added. “I think it was just that that was the best possibility on campus.”
Sosinski falls into the same category now for Kansas. Even though it would’ve been fascinating to see a second-team All-Big 12 defensive lineman like Armstrong out in transition for a break-away jam. We’ll just have to settle for a backup tight end.
Pretty much since the day New Orleans prep teammates Devonta Jason and Corione Harris shocked the college football recruiting world by committing to Kansas, people have openly wondered about the chances the Jayhawks have of actually signing two such highly-coveted recruits.
Much more successful programs remain in the hunt for Jason, rated a five-star receiver by Rivals, and Harris, a four-star cornerback. But, like their former high school teammate at Landry-Walker, Mike Lee, these Class of 2018 prospects have been sold on KU as a a legitimate landing spot thanks to the efforts of Louisiana native Tony Hull, the associate head coach on David Beaty’s staff.
The Kansas staff, as well as the program’s supporters, have followed Jason and Harris closely, and now that the new NCAA early signing period is in effect, we could know just what their futures hold by Dec. 20.
In order to get a different perspective on KU’s recruitment of the so-called “Louisianimals” and perhaps a better feel for whether Jason and Harris will end up playing for the Jayhawks in 2018, I reached out to Sam Spiegelman, who covers LSU and the Louisiana recruiting scene for SECCountry.com.
What did you and others who follow LSU recruiting make of Devonta Jason not making an official visit this past weekend to LSU as planned?
“This was a complicated situation,” Spiegelman said. “Jason has a tight window to get three official visits in and had only four weekends to do it. He had planned on making his way to LSU for Nov. 25, Kansas on Dec. 2 and Mississippi State on Dec. 9. That left Dec. 15 open, but he has plans with his family on the weekend right before the early signing period.”
According to Spiegelman, Jason told him and other reporters the plan all along was to make an official visit to LSU for this past weekend’s Texas A&M game. However, some miscommunication with the LSU staff led to it falling through, as the Tigers were hosting a couple of other receiving prospects, five-star Terrace Marshall Jr. and four-star Justin Watkins. The coaches didn’t want Jason to have a subpar visit because they couldn’t spend as much time with each recruit as they hoped with so many big names there at once.
“LSU’s New Orleans area recruiter Mickey Joseph spent Monday morning at Jason’s high school to try and mend fences,” Spiegelman said. “He will go in-home with the wideout on Thursday, too. Between then, expect Joseph to try and find a time for Jason to officially visit LSU, whether it replaces another visit or is a mid-week official.”
How important is this official visit Jason is making to KU this coming weekend?
“The one edge Kansas has is the level of comfort between Jason and coach Tony Hull, and that Jason’s former teammate, Mike Lee, is having so much success in Lawrence. Beyond that, Jason is very cognizant of the state of the team and the lack of on-the-field success,” Spiegelman replied.
“Jason has made his way from New Orleans to Kansas several times over the past few months, so I’m not so sure if an official visit is really going to sway him in one direction or another,” he added. “This will be about talking to the coaches, getting an idea for the direction of the program and having a chance to re-connect with Lee for a weekend.”
Other potential advantages for Beaty, Hull and KU, Spiegelman suggested, are not only the recent visit mishap with LSU, but also the coaching change at Mississippi State, where Dan Mullen left to become the head coach at Florida, and Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead took over.
“If LSU can’t lure Jason back on campus, Kansas is all of a sudden emerging as a bigger threat than even a month ago,” Spiegelman said.
Who among Jason’s other finalists — Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, West Virginia and Miami — are the biggest threat to beat out LSU and Kansas?
“Easily Mississippi State. I was close to picking State as Jason’s most likely destination after the LSU official visit went awry, but with Dan Mullen now embedded as Florida’s head coach, we need to see which members of his coaching staff will leave Starkville, Miss., and head to Gainesville, Fla.,” Spiegelman said.
“Like Kansas, State holds an edge with some of Jason’s former high school teammates on the roster. Most notably, Keytaon Thompson, Jason’s former quarterback who he won a Class 5A state championship with a year ago,” he explained. “If specific members of the coaching staff stay put on the new-look Mississippi State staff, they may emerge as the favorite leading into a Dec. 20 decision date.”
Is Jason still expected to graduate from Landry-Walker in December and enroll somewhere for the spring semester?
“Yes. He has worked very hard for more than a year to get ahead of schedule in order to graduate in December and be on campus somewhere in January,” Spiegelman responded.
What was the initial reaction in Louisiana when Jason and Harris committed to KU in February, and how, if at all, has that changed in the months since it happened?
“Initially, it was shock. Maybe even a little bit of awe,” Spiegelman revealed. “Jason, a former LSU commit, is one of the top-five prospects within the state of Louisiana. Hull made an even bigger splash landing the tandem of Jason and Corione Harris, along with Pooka Williams, Ja’Marr Chase and Aaron Brule’ in one junior day function. Later, he added Nelson Jenkins, who is now committed to LSU, and Josh Smith, another teammate of Jason’s at Landry-Walker High School, in New Orleans.”
Williams, a three-star running back per Rivals, remains part of KU’s class, as does Smith, a three-star defensive end. Chase, Brule’ and Jenkins backed out of their verbal commitments.
“It led to some early frustration among the LSU fan base, for sure,” Spiegelman related of KU’s recruiting haul. “LSU fans were calling for Hull to replace Joseph as the team’s New Orleans area recruiter and made fans envious of the Jayhawks. Jason has long been a fan favorite for his spectacular, highlight-reel catches. Chase and Williams are also big-time performers that LSU fans are craving to find their way into the Tigers’ 2018 recruiting class.”
The rabid LSU fan base, he added, probably has toned it down since, and wouldn’t lose too much sleep if both Harris and Smith end up playing at Kansas.
“Jason and Williams — not so much,” Spiegelman made clear. “I fully anticipate Williams will wind up at Kansas, assuming he qualifies academically. I can’t say the same for Jason, but if he did, the LSU fan base would not be pleased.”
Do you think it’s likely Harris and Jason are a package deal — wherever they end up?
“If they are, the I’d circle Kansas and Mississippi State as the only schools in the mix for the two,” Spiegelman said. “Jason has been a priority for the LSU coaching staff, whereas Harris — another former commit — has certainly fallen down the board a bit over the past year following his de-commitment in July, 2016.”
Jason and Harris are not just close, he added, but best friends.
“Over the past few months, it seems as if they would be comfortable going their separate ways in order to find their own best fits at a college program. However, LSU is the only school where both wouldn’t be takes,” he said. “At Kansas or State, both could be a part of the plan.”
Is Harris more likely than Jason to end up at KU?
“Absolutely. It’s probably a coin flip between Kansas and Mississippi State,” Spiegelman began. “I know he officially visited Texas and had eyed a visit to Florida, which may be in the mix now that Mullen has landed in Gainesville, Fla. But I’d say Harris has been rather loyal to the Jayhawks and is weighing a future at Kansas versus State for the most part.”
How easy is it for other coaching staffs to use KU’s record the past several seasons as an argument to get Jason and Harris to back out — and do you think that will ultimately be the result?
“That definitely is on the table, but more so other coaching staffs are going to push the proximity from New Orleans or Louisiana,” Spiegelman suggested. “Kansas is a plane ride away. You can’t drive an hour up I-10 West to Baton Rouge or three hours through Mississippi to get there. The distance from home and their families cannot be overstated, especially when schools like LSU can preach playing for your home state and for your hometown school.”
According to the Louisiana-based recruiting reporter, both Jason and Harris seem unbothered when KU’s lack of success gets brought up.
“They are very bright kids and are well aware of the records at Kansas. They have also been reprised of the fact that they could play as true freshman in the Big 12 and perhaps spearhead a turnaround for the Jayhawks,” he said. “Coach Hull has done a terrific job prioritizing both Jason and Harris and keeping them on board for this long. Whether that sticks is out of his control and more will be a product of LSU’s and Mississippi State’s continued push.”
If Jason and/or Harris ultimately flip, Spiegelman thinks it would have less to do with KU’s record over the past several seasons and more to do with the overall stability of a more prominent program.
“There are more constants at, say, an LSU or a Mississippi State or a Florida, because of the program’s football history,” he offered. “Both prospects are going to go where they are wanted the most and they have done a great job entertaining all of their options, Kansas included, leading into Dec. 20.”
Kansas coach Bill Self never has been one to give much thought to national rankings and where his Jayhawks land on such lists.
But considering KU enters Tuesday’s home game against Toledo at 5-0, with an average scoring margin of roughly 94-62 in its victories, Self didn’t mind sharing his opinion on where his team stands among the country’s best when asked whether the Jayhawks are playing at a level worthy of their No. 2 ranking.
“I don’t have any idea,” Self began, before providing his observations of non-conference matchups across the country. “You know, you watch the games this past weekend and those teams have had an opportunity to play comparable level of teams and we’ve only had that once.”
As Self referenced, many of college basketball’s top teams spent a part of Thanksgiving week playing in destination tournaments, providing them with a national stage and name-recognition opponents. Kansas, meanwhile, played two games inside Allen Fieldhouse against teams from the SWAC and Horizon League.
No. 1 Duke, which already had a Champions Classic victory over No. 3 Michigan State on its résumé, padded it with wins in Portland, Ore., over Texas and No. 6 Florida.
No. 3 Michigan State, with its only loss coming on a neutral floor to Duke, added wins over UConn and No. 13 North Carolina.
No. 4 Villanova won The Battle 4 Atlantis with victories against unranked Western Kentucky, Tennessee and Northern Iowa.
No. 5 Notre Dame won the Maui Invitational by defeating host Chaminade, LSU and No. 8 Wichita State.
Though No. 6 Florida lost to Duke, it also gained a victory over No. 15 Gonzaga at Nike’s PK80 mega-event, in Portland.
However, No. 7 Kentucky, like Kansas, has run through a series of non-conference opponents who operate outside of the Power 5 conferences since the two met in Chicago earlier this month.
While most of KU’s wins aren’t exactly eye-catching — Tennessee State, South Dakota State, Texas Southern and Oakland — its preeminent victory to date came against UK at the Champions Classic.
“But you really look at it, when you look at those teams that are ranked really high in the top 10 most of them have only had two games like that,” Self said. “We’ve had one. So very few have had three or whatever yet. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t get there.”
The Jayhawks’ various blowout victories in non-conference play actually have propelled them to the No. 1 spot in the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings. According to KenPom.com, Kansas currently has the sixth-most efficient offense and fifth-most efficient defense in the country, numbers good enough to offset a strength of schedule that ranks 201st at this juncture.
“But I think based on who we played, I think we’ve played pretty well considering who we played. If it was somebody else and we played pretty well but we won by 10 I’d say the same thing,” Self said, referencing his disregard for the actual final margin in KU’s wins. “The teams that we beat are better than what the score indicated, so I think we’ve played pretty well.”
Does that mean Kansas deserves its No. 2 ranking in the nation, according to both the AP and coaches polls?
“Probably not. Probably not,” Self repeated, “but it’s still too early. I don’t know who exactly does deserve it just yet if you haven’t really had a chance to play the quality competition that you need to in order to be ranked that high.”
AP TOP 25 (Nov. 27, 2017)
No. 1. Duke
No. 2. Kansas
No. 3. Michigan State
No. 4. Villanova
No. 5. Notre Dame
No. 6. Florida
No. 7. Kentucky
No. 8. Wichita State
No. 9. Texas A & M
No. 10. Miami
No. 11. Cincinnati
No. 12. Minnesota
No. 13. North Carolina
No. 14. USC
No. 15. Gonzaga
No. 16. Baylor
No. 17. Louisville
No. 18. Virginia
No. 19. West Virginia
No. 20. Arizona State
No. 21. Xavier
No. 22. Texas Tech
No. 23. TCU
No. 24. Alabama
No. 25. Creighton
The “Where’s Daylon Charlot?” game — a popular pastime these past several months for those who follow Kansas football — took an interesting turn this past weekend when the former Alabama wide receiver wore a No. 7 KU football uniform against Kansas State, instead of his former No. 2 jersey.
Most observers entered the 2017 season expecting Charlot, a four-star high school recruit out of Patterson, La., talented enough to sign with Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, to become a playmaker within KU’s Air Raid offense in his first year of eligibility with the Big 12 program. Or at least have a chance to make a positive impact.
However, Charlot only caught one pass (for no yardage) in the first Kansas loss of the season, to Central Michigan. In the weeks that followed, he fell even deeper down the depth chart and never made his way onto the field unless he was back deep for a kickoff return (the 6-foot, 195-pound sophomore has three returns on the season and averages 18.7 yards per special teams touch).
But wearing a completely different number, one shared by KU quarterback Peyton Bender, signaled another twist in the Charlot saga. A receiver can’t have the same number on his jersey as a quarterback, so either the newly-benched Bender had moved to defense or the seldom-used Charlot had a new position.
The latter, of course, was true. Although Charlot is too new to the defensive backfield to be trusted with game reps, he is now playing safety for the Jayhawks (1-7 overall, 0-5 Big 12).
Why didn’t it work out for Charlot at receiver, where everyone from expected top target Steven Sims Jr., to true freshman Quan Hampton, to junior college transfer Kerr Johnson Jr. made much more of a difference for the offense? That’s a topic offensive coordinator and receivers coach Doug Meacham didn’t want to fully dive into.
“I don’t know. I think we just really needed some safeties. And he’s not really playing much for us, so … that’s probably all I can say on that one,” Meacham responded Thursday during his weekly session with media. “He kind of wanted to, also. I think it was like ‘I’m not really getting a whole lot over here. I know there’s a need for safety.’”
Indeed, KU defensive coordinator and safeties coach Clint Bowen said Charlot sought out the switch, initiating that discussion with head coach David Beaty.
“It’s just a situation where he wasn’t getting reps over there,” Bowen said, “so you just take a look to see if he has a skill set to play on our side of the ball.”
It’s too early to tell, Bowen added, just what kind of defensive back Charlot could become for Kansas.
“Yeah, that takes time. It does, unfortunately, at safety in this league,” Bowen said. “It takes reps and time and a feel. There’s just a lot of things that you have to see over and over and over to create your reactions the way they need to be, because you can get fooled in this league.”
So don’t expect to see Charlot on the field for Bowen’s defense anytime soon, unless KU is in the late stages of a blowout or a rash of injuries severely attacks the team’s safety depth.
Perhaps we will learn more down the road about why Charlot didn’t fit as a receiver. For the time being, give credit to the young player for taking himself out of his comfort zone and trying something different.
“These kids, they want to play,” Bowen said. “They came here to play in games and succeed. My take on the kid is he just wants to get on the field and do what he can to help the team. He seems to be that type of guy, that he just wants to get on the field and play.”